14 Helpful comments from a man who just traveled to Iceland in September 2019
@Kristopher Tremblay: Just back from our trip and figured I would contribute a few thoughts. One man’s opinion and observations on things so take it with a grain of salt.
1. How expensive is iceland? How Much does an Iceland Trip Cost?
The first words out of everyone’s mouth: Iceland is expensive!
But that is what you get when you visit a country with a high quality of life. Restaurant meals came as a shock at first, but when we thought about what we pay on top of the meal cost (13% tax and 20% tip on top of that in Canada) we realized that the prices were not outrageous.
Prices were comparable to the meals we have had in big cities like Detroit and Chicago. Plus, there are restaurants that are more reasonable than others. With a small population and the fact that most everything is shipped in, it makes sense that you are going to pay more.
2. Iceland Hot Springs
Nobody tells you that your hot water will reek of sulphur in most places. Makes for some funny moments as your kids come out of the shower gagging.
3. Iceland Grocery Stores
Grocery stores are the best way to save money. I found that most items were similar to home in Canada, with some even cheaper (junk food aisle)
4. Wouldn’t pack any food from home
Added to #2, we wouldn’t pack any food from home except for hard to find items (peanut butter for us). Iceland is the land of protein bars and granola, and it is way more fun to try brands you don’t have at home. You can buy it just as cheap at Bonus, and you’re better off saving room in your luggage for more socks.
5. Be extra cautious as you drive the popular tourist areas
Unlike most places, there is no forewarning that a major site is up ahead as you travel the highways. There will literally only be a small sign right at the turn. It makes for a very dangerous situation as people slam on their brakes when they realize they are missing their turn. Advanced signs indicating that a turn to that sight is ahead would be much safer, but in the meantime be extra cautious as you drive the popular tourist areas.
6. The major tourist attractions in Iceland
“Overtourism”- The major tourist attractions are busy but don’t expect hoards of people there. We found that it wasn’t nearly as bad as people made it sound. If you like your quite, early and late visits are where it’s at.
7. Rental cars
If you are just driving on paved roads you don’t need a 4×4. We rented an SUV because of our bags, and it was a two-wheel-drive that was allowed on F-Roads (I was shocked at that). If I was travelling alone, I’d go for a little compact car and pay half the price. For winter, keep in mind that four-wheel drive is not safer on snow and ice. If anything, it makes you overconfident as a driver. 4×4 will get you out of the snow, but not keep you from sliding off the road in snow or ice (I say this as someone who drives a Jeep in Canadian winter roads).
Read more: Travel Iceland in Style with Kúkú Campers!
8. Be sure to buy a gas card
Your PIN number will work great the whole trip… until you really need it. If you plan on travelling the ring road at night or in more desolate areas then be sure to buy a gas card.
I wore jeans the entire time and did just fine. We had plenty of rain and wind but stayed dry thanks to our cheap rain pants. Don’t let people convince you that you need to invest in a whole wardrobe of expensive tech clothing (that you will never wear again) if you are just there to check out the major sights. Jumping out of your car dressed like you are going to summit Everest so you can spend 30 min looking at a waterfall is a waste of money. If I was doing a multi-day hike in the highlands, it would be a different story.
10. Gore-Tex and the like
Personal opinion from someone who has spent good amount of time on multi-day hikes in all kinds of weather and who does own expensive rain gear. If you are just jumping out of the car to visit the sites (and not on foot for days at a time), a cheap sealed rain jacket is all you need.
GoreTex and the like are designed to help you breath when you sweat, but they cannot ever be as effective as a fully sealed jacket to keep the water out. The average person is not going to worry about sweat in Iceland if they are just sightseeing.
Don’t spend hundreds on a jacket that you don’t really need. You don’t need a jacket that will keep you alive, just one that will keep you comfortable. (Again, if I was out on the trails with a 35 kg backpack it would be a different story.)
11. Home base
We were lucky to have 1 day of sunshine and 6 days of clouds and rain (third week of August). The clouds and fog meant we had no views of the mountains and glaciers (we did know they were there somewhere!) If we were to do our trip again, we would choose a good home base (Selfoss for example), and then do day trips out based on the weather forecast. A great itinerary is no match for Iceland weather (yes, you can do it all in the rain but the best part of the trip is seeing those majestic views as you drive to your destination- it is just not the same with low clouds and fog.)
12. The weather in Iceland
The optimists say that the weather changes every five minutes. It will indeed. If it was like our trip, it will go from a little rain to sideways rain, to drizzle, to downpour. Still, it gives you a good reason to come back.
13. You can’t visit all the top attractions in Iceland
My only regret is trying to do and see everything that I ‘thought’ I needed to. It’s easy to let the itinerary take over your trip. Next time I would take twice the time to see half those things. Don’t fall into the trap of checking sights off your list. Take the time to enjoy these beautiful places!
14. Iceland is an amazing country
You will not regret your visit for a moment. And if the weather sucks or you miss out on your dream of the seeing the Aurora Borealis, then you are lucky enough to have a great excuse to come back soon.